Pete Carroll can find the sunny side to any storm, so he probably views Russell Wilson's injuries this season as a blessing in disguise.
Wilson's diminished mobility forced him to operate from the pocket the last two weeks and resulted in a pass-first Seattle offense we expected to see all along this season. It's hard to overstate how accurate and electric Wilson was against the Jets, delivering touch passes and fastballs past defenders seemingly in good position.
This was an artist excelling precisely because he was given limitations. Without mind-bending escape tricks available as an option, Wilson had to speed up his decisions. He danced like Brady in the pocket, rather than spinning backward on an unlimited canvas.
With a bye week for Wilson to get healthy, the rest of the NFC should be worried. Peak Jimmy Graham is back and Seattle's defense is more talented than ever. Wilson's annually a slow starter, but it only took two weeks for the 27-year-old to recapture his MVP form from the second half of 2015. If he can dissect a quality defense like the Jets' unit without all his tools available, what's he going to do when healthy?
This is the Quarterback Index. We rank every starter based on their 2016 performance alone. (So, yes, Tom Brady fans -- you'll have to wait until next week for his inclusion.) For comparison's sake, here is last week's edition.
Matt Ryan gets his own tier for one week
Ryan's dream day against the Panthers was a triumph for Falcons fans, Julio's fantasy owners and me. It provided an easy answer to the question, Who has played quarterback best through one quarter of a muddled season?
Ryan's statistical dominance snuck up like that sleepy Falcons season on "Hard Knocks." He's averaging a staggering 10.52 yards per attempt, more than 2 yards clear of every other NFL quarterback. To put that in perspective, the same gap exists between No. 2 in YPA (Andy Dalton) and No. 28 (Browns rookie Cody Kessler). Ryan is lapping the field.
Until the indoor fireworks show against Ron Rivera's secondary, Ryan's 2016 season was a slow burn. He was playing within himself, relying on quick decisions, great protection and excellent play calling to methodically move the ball. Watching receivers pop up wide open all over the field was reminiscent of coordinator Kyle Shanahan's hot hand early in the 2014 season with Brian Hoyer in Cleveland. Shanahan has far more talent at his disposal now, and it showed up in a Panthers game where Ryan connected on five throws that traveled 20 air yards. (He completed six such throws in the first three games combined.)
A quarterback's "weapons" are often understood to be his receivers. But this Falcons offensive line is a weapon. The threat of Atlanta's incredible two-headed running game is a weapon. Scheme familiarity in Year 2 of Shanahan's system is a weapon. With coach Dan Quinn's Falcons defense playing worse than ever this season, Ryan will have to keep slinging the ball to win games. He won't sneak up on anyone the rest of the way.
Ryan did me a favor by standing out this week because there is so little separation in the rest of the top 10. Roethlisberger, Rodgers, Luck, Newton and Stafford have all thrown in duds alongside their best games. Wentz has done virtually nothing wrong thus far, but he's asked to do a lot less than the rest of this tier.
Carr's numbers would be even better if not for some untimely drops, penalties and mistakes from teammates. He is a coach's dream as a young quarterback because you know what you're getting every week. He is nearly impossible to get on the ground and mixes in the occasional postcard-picture throw, like his game-winner to Michael Crabtree last week. But he's ranked in the top five after a month mostly because he's even steadier than his elders at the position.
NFL Network's Reggie Wayne is not just standing up for an ex-teammate when he blames the Colts organization for Luck's struggles. Aside from the Week 2 game in Denver, Luck is back to playing like a top-10 quarterback on an individual level. His supporting cast, though ...
It's a bad sign when Carolina's offensive line can't protect Cam Newton well against Atlanta's lackluster pass rush. The Panthers' magic up front from a year ago is sorely missing thus far. Usually the team with the most synchronized and complex running game in football, Carolina has too often lacked rhythm on the ground. From ugly handoffs to blown assignments, the Panthers' struggling running game has directly led to Newton's slow start as passer.
Prescott just assumes he'll make the first unblocked defender miss. He dispatches with professional pass rushers with the smooth calm of someone who's done it all before. Even though Pro Football Focus ranks the Cowboys 23rd in pass blocking, Prescott has yet to perspire on the season. (Note: One of those statements is made up.) Only Andrew Luck has provided more value among quarterbacks as a runner in 2016, according to ESPN's QBR metric.
Once the prime meridian between franchise quarterbacks and question marks, Dalton has solidified last season's gains. He makes lesser teammates better, while also showing increased willingness to simply throw it deep and let A.J. Green make a play. Now that prime meridian, formerly known as The Dalton Scale, hovers around Alex Smith's reliable play.
The Chargers' offense is beginning to show the limitations of playing without Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead, Stevie Johnson and Antonio Gates. The personnel losses force Rivers to be nearly perfect to win -- and he's missed more throws than usual this season.
Palmer suffered a concussion against Los Angeles on a four-man rush where both Cardinals tackles failed to adjust to stunting Rams defenders. That continued a trend of poor communication up front for Arizona. Palmer has not seen where the pressure is coming from the last two weeks, inviting opponents to get after him with impunity. This is not the sort of repeating problem you expect to see with a veteran quarterback and offense, yet the 36-year-old Palmer has proven unable to solve problems early this season.
Middle of the pack
Taylor and Russell Wilson are the only two quarterbacks whose "grades" have improved each week this season, a sign that Bills coach Rex Ryan was wise to swap out offensive coordinators. Taylor is the best pure scrambler in football and has used his movement skills more the last two weeks. The Patriots had no answer for Taylor's throws on the run, a development that warmed Ryan's Wildcat Truther heart. We're about two wins away from Rex boasting at a press conference that he was "right about Tim Tebow" all along to no one in particular.
Eli refuses to be sacked this season. That shouldn't be entirely up to the quarterback, so it's fascinating to see one exhibit that level of control about the uncertain world around him. If Manning doesn't like the play or an unblocked defender comes after him, he just throws the ball into the turf. He's only been hit 10 times this year, less than Cam Newton was knocked down in one game against Minnesota.
Tannehill and Cousins have a strange gift to consistently look better in the box scores than they do on Game Pass each week. The Thursday night letdown in Cincinnati was one of the lowest moments of Tannehill's career and a reminder that he has less job security than his play caller for the first time. Jay Cutler losing his job long-term to Hoyer would be a candidate for the lowest moment of his career, but this is the same guy who was benched for Jimmy Clausen not so long ago.
It's not a good sign that Jacksonville started to coach around Bortles in the team's first win of the season. The third-year QB didn't even attempt a vertical throw in the first half against the Colts, as the Jags' coaching staff limited Bortles' exposure. Playing not to lose against an undermanned defense like Indy's shows a lack of confidence in Bortles that should freak out his fantasy owners.
Running back Carlos Hyde's a nice offensive chip in San Francisco, but the 49ers own one of the most talent-poor passing games the NFL has seen since the mid-2000s 49ers led by Tim Rattay, Eric Johnson and Cedrick Wilson. Chip Kelly requires execution above all, but his offense is consistently out of sync. The first play of San Francisco's game against Seattle had Gabbert running a play fake to no one. Gabbert threw just enough jaw-droppers against Dallas to raise hopes, but his "underrated athleticism" is overrated. He runs fast but isn't a natural scrambler and made a number of poor decisions against the Cowboys about when to run in Kelly's offense. Free Colin Kaepernick!